Tag Archives: Ben Ditto

Least Expected

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Misja Pec

For my third birthday, all I wanted was a chocolate cake. My mom promised me one, so I was excited for this grand delivery of layer upon layer of creamy chocolate covered in ribbons of icing. My whole family would be there with presents and kisses, singing “Happy Birthday” amid the streamers and balloons filling the air. I would finally feel like the princess I was destined to be. When the big day came, my mom plopped down a brown loaf with three tiny candles in front of me with a thud. There was no multi-tiered chocolate cake with towers of icing; there were no balloons, no streamers, no piles of gifts, and no one else in my family except my parents. In my three-year-old mind, everything was ruined.

Flash-forward 33 years later, and I’m sitting in my van with tears running down my face while I ice my ankle and lament my situation: It’s two days before my husband, Ben, and I are supposed to leave for a five-week climbing trip to Slovenia. My feet were about six feet off the ground on Change of Heart, a V6 in Bishop’s Buttermilks, when I jumped down and landed perfectly on the pads in a crouched position. A split second later, I lost my balance and tipped forward, my left foot twisting ever so slightly in an awkward direction. I felt a pop on the inside of my ankle and immediately grabbed it in pain. I quickly tried to walk it off only to realize that something was definitely wrong. Shock set in slowly, then mourning, denial, and grave disappointment, a similar process the mind goes through when someone dies. This was happening almost two years to the day after I broke my ankle (also bouldering in the Buttermilks) when my foot struck the ground between the pads, an injury that took me nearly three months to recover from.

To add insult to injury (pun fully intended), this round of ankle problems happened when I wasn’t even supposed to be climbing hard. I was in taper mode following a life-consuming, 6-hours-a-day training regimen. For the past two months, Ben and I had been visiting family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and training at the local gym. Every Monday through Thursday we devoted ourselves to training like it was our job. Wake up, yoga, breakfast, then head to the gym for cardio, weightlifting, climbing, hundreds of pull-ups, campusing, hangboarding, Frenchies, circuits, TRX, leg exercises, 4×4’s—and that’s all in a single session. We were sacrificing prime Southern conditions at the half-dozen world-class crags near Chattanooga to toil away inside. I had even trained through a nasty weeklong flu that had me otherwise bedridden with soup and hot tea.

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Training for power

Our goal to dispatch projects quickly on fantastic Slovenian limestone seemed like it was slipping away. My ankle turned into a large purple onion while my mind filled with doubt. What if it’s broken? Will I be able to push off the notoriously glassy feet of Misja Pec? What would I do with my strongest body ever and a bum ankle? Should I stay in Bishop in our van, just limping along and waiting? Waiting for what exactly, I wasn’t sure.

Two days later I was being escorted via wheelchair through three different airports (surprisingly the smoothest travel experience of my life), and we were on our way. I was nervous for what lay ahead. I wanted to be supportive of Ben because he had put in just as much training effort and was looking really strong, but I was feeling sorry for myself. We arrived to consistent rain, but the thatched-roof villages mixed with pastures of sheep and rolling hills covered in fog were overwhelmingly enchanting. I tried to do some physical therapy and keep busy with yoga, writing, movies, and cooking, but things were moving so slowly that after a week there I was disappointed in everything. I wanted to be climbing, but I could barely walk to the base of the wall.

All those weeks of training, the anticipation, the excitement; it had all been for nothing. I thought about the missed opportunities and the what if’s, digging myself a great dark hole of emptiness and gloom. I crawled in that hole, piled all my grief on top, and sat there, alone. I felt like a fool, like a child, like a brat. I felt like that 3-year-old who denied her mom’s homemade bread.

A chance meeting between Ben and a shoulder surgeon at the crag one day led me to Slovenia’s top physiotherapist, who happened to live right down the street. I was doubtful—what on earth would make him so great, but I would do anything to get out of this hell hole.

A rather large man examined my underwear-clad body while I walked around his office. Yanking on my inflamed ankle, he pressed and poked the most painful places with all of his might, telling me to focus on my breathing, always on my breathing. “Just breathe,” he said. “Look at your breathing, calm your breathing.” Then he sat down in a chair across from me and said, “Tell me, what is it that is causing you stress? I can see it in your eyes when you first came in. Something has you unsatisfied that is beyond this injury.” Taking a deep breath and deciding to trust him not just with my physical body but my emotional one as well I told him about the trials and tribulations of my marriage and the stresses I felt from it. He went on to say that as an athlete my whole being needed to be 100% focused on climbing, that any slight irritation, any emotional trouble, anything that could wobble me is harmful to my climbing and my health. With this kind of trouble a small injury can blow up into a big thing. Taking my hands in his, he told me I could climb as much as I want but warned me it would be painful. “Don’t worry, though,” he said, “because it is only the mind and the mind lives in the past.” As I walked out, he called after me, “Do not live in fear and enjoy your life.”

I walked out of his office a little bit looser both in my body and in my mind. He had helped to break up some of the stagnation in my ankle and he helped me to breath deeper, and to  take responsibility for my feelings. I was being healed both physically and emotionally, something that you just don’t find with your typical doc in the States. Getting an ok from him also helped me to relax; his reassurance that it wasn’t broken, that it would heal were really all I needed. I was going to be ok, I just needed time, I just needed to let go of the preconceived ideas I had about performance and red-points and onsights. I just needed to relax and enjoy.

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Taking it all in and waiting for the shade.

Expectations set you up for failure. If you do not achieve the one thing you desire, life can feel like a disaster, and it means you miss a larger piece of the puzzle: the greatness of the unexpected. Expectations make you rigid and closed off to other opportunities. They force you to demand a lot of yourself, of others, and of the universe at large. My expectations for this climbing trip, for all the glorious routes I would climb and prove my fitness to kept me blind to the path I was actually on.

I’ve always heard the saying “there is no success like failure,” and I’ve come to understand that it is in failure that we see ourselves for who we really are and what we’re made of. If I hadn’t hurt my ankle, I never would have gone to see the Slovenian physiotherapist Alan Lilic, I never would have come to understand myself that much more, and I never would have gotten a grasp on the things in my relationship that needed to be ironed out. I  learned the difference between having a goal and having an expectation. Goals are things that I strive for, work for, and build myself for and it has always been that with enough preparation and enough will power to keep pushing through the ups and downs they can be met. My expectation was thinking that the goal would be met with ease, that just because I had trained I was guaranteed great victory in my climbing, that I was untouchable by obstacle. Having goals is great—it drives, motivates, and pushes you, but by expecting to always meet or exceed my goals, I’ve set myself up to be unhappy. When our expectations aren’t met, we’re left with a sort of self-imposed suffering called disappointment, and life is too short and too precious for such frivolity. My Technicolor foot barely fits into my climbing shoe now, and the pain of pulling on polished feet is subsiding more and more, but my climbing goals are still there, as well as my relationship that requires care and nurturing. For years I demanded that my mom admit she made a loaf of bread instead of a cake. Eventually she confessed it was a chocolate spice bread. We laughed over the silliness of it all, and she said, “That was probably the best bread I’ve ever made, which is too bad for you because I lost the recipe.” It’s unfortunate for me that I never tasted it, but unlike the fleetingness of a homemade pastry, climbing and life continue to offer up opportunities for new experiences, new goals, new processes and endless lessons. I’m fortunate beyond belief with the opportunities and accomplishments in my life. Some things have come with ease and some things have been a battle, leaving me bruised and scarred and questioning  how bad I want it but I keep getting up and going back. 

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That sweet taste of sending a beautiful route. Pticja Perspektiva (8a+/13c)

all photos by http://www.bendittophoto.com

a version of this story was published in the May 2016 edition of Climbing Magazine.

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The Verdon Gorge

Reposted from: http://blog.eddiebauer.com/2015/02/09/katie-lambert-free-climbs-the-verdon-gorge/

This is the kind of rock that Katie would dream of as a kid in Louisiana.  Perfection on suvellir et punir The Verdon is known for its top down access, the biggest challenge to the approach can be finding exactly where the top is. Sometime in the 1990s, I became aware of the broader world of rock climbing. Growing up in the Deep South, I wasn’t blessed with endless cliffs or high mountains, and places such as Yosemite, the Dolomites, the Hand of Fatima in Africa, and the Verdon Gorge of Southern France became dream places to visit. I lived with the idea that somehow, one day I might be able to visit those places, and if I was lucky enough, I might even be able to climb there at a level that would make me proud. While I dreamed and trained in a hot and humid garage climbing gym, a lot of classic history had already been made. Those places which had so inspired me were falling out of vogue in exchange for a steeper, more gymnastic type of free climbing. But there was something about the bold run-out, very delicate style of climbing in places like the Verdon that were alluring to me. “There was something about the bold run-out, very delicate style of climbing in places like the Verdon that were alluring to me.” —Katie Lambert Situated on a fault line in the Provence region of France, the Verdon Gorge establishes a border between the high mountains of the Hautes-Alpes and the lush rolling hills and valleys of Provence. Through the ages, the river of the Verdon has carved a canyon through the Jurassic age limestone, creating striking gold and gray walls up to 1,500 feet tall. Realizing that these cliffs were prime for climbing, routes started to become developed in the late 1960s. The first features that were climbed followed cracks, fissures and ledges up the imposing cliffs, and everything in the Verdon was established ground up. Classic and historical routes such as La DemandeUla and Luna Bong are results of this era of climbing in the Verdon. However, if men of staunch tradition could not free-climb their way through sections, then they resorted to aid techniques. This practice, which was commonplace the world over, started to take a different shape when more technically advanced free climbers like Patrick Edlinger, Jacques Perrier, Jean Marc Troussier, J.B. Tribout, Patrick Berhault, and the Le Menestrel brothers started to push the limits of possibility in the Verdon in the 1980s and 1990s. The ground-up, all-trad approach was left behind for bolted faces established from the top down. With a road running the course of the lip of the gorge and every cliff being accessible by rappelling into it, it only seemed obvious to start developing routes in what would become known as “rap-bolting.”

This approach opened the door to possibilities, because instead of having to follow the obvious weaknesses up the wall, the “rap-bolting” approach made it possible to piece together the thin and seemingly blank faces, and with that a new wave of hard free climbing was born. With the rap-bolting also came “hang-dogging,” which involves hanging on a rope to sort out the moves and sequences of the climb in order to free climb the route in its entirety without falls or hanging. Not only were new routes being established from the top down, but previously ground up aid routes were now being free climbed thanks to the hang-dogging and top down “sussing out.” At the time, both rap-bolting and hang-dogging were highly controversial for the “old guard” and brought the ethics of climbing into question, not only in France but the world over. However, these new tactics resulted in not only the development of harder routes but also helped to push the limits of what humans were capable of as far as physical prowess. The dawn of a new era had arrived and technical masterpieces were the result. “In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge had come to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless.” —Katie Lambert In the Verdon Gorge, one of the most famous routes of this nature was established in the mid-1970s by Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier. The two used fixed ropes from the top to find the line of holds and features that would became the 10 pitch traversing route known as Pichenibule. The route was not climbed all in one go until 1980, when the great Patrick Berhault climbed it at a grade of 6c+/AO (5.11c/A0), which was soon followed by the first female ascent of this rating by Marisa Montes. But it was in 1985 that Catherine Destivelle made the first free ascent of this route at a very sandbagged 7b++ (5.12c++) grade, quite an impressive feat, as this was at the top of the level in those days. Through the years, as the grades started to climb, the ratings of many of the original free climbs of the Verdon have leveled out and Pichenibule has finally started to settle around the more appropriate grade of 7c+ (5.13a). In September 2014, my long-held dream of visiting the Verdon Gorge came to fruition when I met up with Caroline George for a weeklong foray into the miles of blue limestone walls. I wanted to share a quintessential Verdon experience with her, and my list of potential routes to do was seemingly endless. Then she suggested Pichenibule. This route would offer up everything the Verdon meant to me: a test of finger strength, technique, and nerve to try the run-outs. I had been made aware that the crux pitch, if done free, was quite hard. I wanted the odds in our favor for making a team free-ascent of this historical line, so I decided to stick with the style of the area and preview the pitch from the top.

I rappelled into the route with a fixed line and two micro-traxions (self-belay devices). The river raged 1,500 feet below and the walls swept away below me. The exposure wasn’t too bad, but as I looked at the holds on my way down, glistening in the sun, I realized this pitch was indeed going to be hard. I clipped into the belay, arranged my gear, and set off on a solo mission to solve the puzzle. I was greeted with powerful moves, very technical footwork and handholds, which were more like single-finger holds that were impossible to grip in the heat of the sun. I had to hand-over-hand up the rope to easier ground and then climb out to the top. I felt a little overwhelmed by the prospect of freeing this route. A little later in the day, after the sun had dropped below the mountains, I went back down to see if it was any better in the shade. The grip was better but the moves were still hard. The Verdon was showing me that the climbing there was tough, and I wondered if I wasn’t being too audacious. A couple of days later, after better acquainting ourselves with the climbing of the Verdon on the beautiful Surveiller et Punir, we roped up to try our luck on Pichenibule. After rappelling into the wall some 900 feet down, we led out, swapping leads through the run-outs, traverses and gouttes d’eau before finally arriving at the crux 10th pitch. We had timed it all just right so that the wall was now in the shade. Relieved at this, I tightened my shoes, had a few sips of water, double-checked my knot and got reassurance from Caroline that she would give me a soft catch if I fell. Then I set off. I climbed up the bouldery intro sequences to the very reachy and thin crux. I struggled to bring my left foot up in order to reach easier ground, and then I fell. I soared through the air and came to rest a few feet above Caroline. My fingers ached with numbness from gripping too hard and I yelled out in frustration and pain. Despite having fallen, the climbing actually felt achievable, but I wondered if I could do it again. I lowered back to Caroline, tied into the anchor, pulled my rope and set off again. The climbing seemed automatic. I wasn’t really thinking about what to do as much as I was just doing it. Before I knew it, I was back where I had fallen, bringing my left foot up and reaching for the better incut crimp. My fingers latched the hold and I exhaled with relief. I rested there for a little while before climbing the last 15 feet to the anchor. I had done it.,I had managed to free climb the notorious 10th pitch of Pichenibule! I belayed Caroline up and then set off again on the last run-out pitch to the top. As I sat there, belaying her up and watching the clouds turn a beautiful pink and gold with the sunset, I felt really proud to have found the sequence that the greats like Stephane Troussier and Jacques “Pschitt” Perrier had seen as possible, and that Patrick Berhault and Catherine Destivelle had unlocked. I had finally arrived in the Verdon, with a great and supportive partner, and had climbed at a level that made me proud. Katie and Caroline organize their gear after a long day out.


A Little Glimpse of climbing in the Verdon Gorge

Freeing the Verdon Gorge from Eddie Bauer on Vimeo.


Sierra Sojourn

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Broken wings. photo Ben Ditto

I started to cringe with each step, steeper and more angled than the previous. The weight of my pack and the events of the day were starting to wear on me and my ankle was getting sore. I was walking differently to compensate for the discomfort and then finally, feet hit flat ground and we were in the home stretch back to the truck. As I dropped my heavy, not so heavy burden to the ground and commenced to follow suit I looked up at Patrick with a smile, the words “Thanks for a great day” spilling from my mouth.

Six months prior I had fallen at the Buttermilks and landed with one foot squarely on the pads, the other crookedly in the hole between the pads. Upon impact my talus cracked in two places. For a minute there, after popping it back into place, I managed to convince myself it was fine. In reality it would be two months of disuse followed by months of rehab. At the time this seemed exceptionally cruel as we had just returned from spending a fall and winter traveling and climbing in Spain.  I had red pointed my first 5.14 as well as numerous other memorable routes and I was feeling strong and psyched.

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China Crisis, 5.14a; Oliana, SP photo: Manabu Yoneyama

We returned to Bishop in February and I hit the ground running. There were a few problems on my mind at the Buttermilks and I went after them almost immediately. I was rewarded with quick ascents and as exciting as that was I was also starting to feel a little confused. I went out climbing even on days I really didn’t feel like climbing and I questioned what my motivation was. I was starting to not feel present and just at the height of that feeling I broke my ankle. It was as if the universe was telling me I needed to sit down and get grounded again.

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Just another day, just another problem. Buttermilks; Bishop, CA photo: POD

No one ever really told me how badly broken bones hurt, or how they go through a range of pain or how the mental and emotional self also hurt. I can safely say one thing I learned is that healing hurts – almost more than the break itself.  For days I could hardly get out of bed, the discomfort coupled with the amount of energy it took to drag myself around were just too much. I watched movies, I read, I wrote, I cried, and I slept.  Despite the pain I never filled my prescription for Percocet – I just endured and winced with the waves of discomfort. I never filled it because I was afraid of it, because I knew I would fall into a depression as the time wore on and if I had those pills I would probably find myself down a very dark hole.

I’m a very physical person – at times in my life one could equate my happiness with my activity level. I have always been this way. I love nothing more than trying hard, pushing myself, sweating and feeling the deep burn. I enjoy my body and using it to it’s utmost capacity. This being my first broken bone I was afraid of the down time, afraid of not expressing myself physically, afraid, afraid, afraid. Some days were better than others and I grew a lot as an individual during that time.  I reflected on what things are important to me and what I came up with was an array of things but at the top of the list was health. I went on to take this apart and ask myself what about health is important, is achievable, am I working with currently and how could I continue to work with that in the longterm?

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Seasonal foods, fresh foods, whole foods. Tomatoes keep you cool in the summer!

The work I do with Sacred Rok as camp cook has pushed me into a realm of being responsible for not only my own diet but the diet of many youth and mentors/adults. I cook seasonal foods, organic foods, local foods, whole foods – basically real food. Being an athlete I also want to know what is the most nutritious and beneficial way I can eat for performance. These two things coupled together with the down time of recovery pushed me to enroll in graduate school for a masters in Holistic Nutrition. I’m a few months into the program and I’m loving every bit of it. It’s pushed me further to consider each thing we put into our bodies.

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Organic, local and free!

After a few weeks of being broken I started to get creative with my exercise. Unable to walk or put weight on my right leg I resorted to a lot of floor exercise – like one leg push-ups, ice-bucket lifts with one arm, countless ab work outs, I even started to strap weights to my legs to do leg lifts, and then I entered into a serious hangboard program. I eased into it and always followed suit with push-ups, wrist curls and other oppositional training. Having trained on the board for years I quickly arrived at the point were I was ready to start training max strength. This involved a series of different repeater exercises with added weight as well as pull-ups with weight. It also involved one arm hangs and one arm pull-ups – these involved taking weight off until I could do a pull-up unassisted. It helped structure my time and give me direction even though it seemed like I would possibly peak in my fitness at a time when I wouldn’t even really be climbing. I did it anyway.

One from the archives - hangboarding in El Portal. photo Jeff Johnson

One from the archives – hangboarding in El Portal. photo Jeff Johnson

Before I knew it it was time to start using my foot again. I developed a program to recovery that included physical therapy, pilates, bike riding and some strength training for climbing. I went to physical therapy twice a week from April until June at the Bishop Physical Therapy Clinic. I worked with 2 PT’s who really helped push me and get me back on track to an even stronger me. They helped strengthen and stabilize my ankle, my foot, my toes, my calf and both hips. It’s amazing to me how once a person starts to pay more attention to their body they start to realize other imbalances and weaknesses. For sometime now I have been going to see Mary Devore at the Bishop Yoga and Pilates Studio. She has been my primary body worker and through her excruciatingly healing touch has helped show me certain problem areas in my body. Stuff that’s been there probably since infancy and accumulated throughout the dramas of life. During my rehab time she taught me how to use the Pilates Reformer. Originally this contraption was referred to as The Universal Reformer because it “universally reforms the body.” It works the small stabilizing muscles as well as a deep core and it also helps to align the body. This marvelous machine has done more to balance me out than anything else. In wanting to train strength I could think of no better resource than Ian Nielson at Mammoth Strength. He is not only a great friend but also a great coach and very knowledgable about the body and how it works. He helped me understand how to structure a training week as well as establishing exercises on the gymnastic rings, hang board and systems board. I worked some with him through my recovery and once I was climbing again.

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Ian and his “Whip you into Shape” shop

 

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Stretching it out on the systems wall photo: Mammoth Strength

 

During my rehab time I also gave in to a long standing desire to own a road bike. For many years I have wanted one but substituted my mountain bike tires for road wheels – it worked for a while but with rehab as a good excuse I bought myself the sexiest, fastest bike I could afford.

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I took some intro rides around the Owens Valley and became better acquainted with two super fun and super rad Bishop locals who were also in the rehab process: Trish McGuire and Christie McIntire. Together we rode through some beautiful places and reveled in our bodies abilities to heal and strengthen.

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The day we poached the pass! Tioga Rd, CA

 

As I got stronger on the bike I took on longer, harder rides solo. The top two being riding to Glacier Point and riding the whole Tioga Pass from Lee Vining to Tuolumne. They were both hard, both alpine starts and entirely worth it.

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The reward of my effort. Dawn from Glacier Point

 

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Looking down Olmsted Canyon toward the Valley.

 

Sometime in May I was able to start climbing again. I took it incredibly slow, only top roping for about a month and not really climbing anything too hard.  Even though I had been training and was feeling strong it felt weird when I started to move on rock again.I wasn’t breathing and I was guarding my movements; things weren’t flowing freely. Thankfully 18 years of climbing have given me a good foundation and I was back to feeling natural and confident on the rock within a couple of weeks. My psyche was high – I felt more motivated, more positive and more appreciative of climbing than ever. I took the opportunity to tick some classics, revive some long forgotten gems and just enjoy myself.

At the start of July I had been leading for about a month and was eager to get into some long valley routes. In scouring the guidebook for things I hadn’t done I came across some lines that had been forgotten to the lichen. I ventured out trying some of these and found a bag of mixed results. Certain unnamed routes should be left in the past and certain other unnamed routes are “c’est incroyable” and will be getting some more attention from me in the future.  I also came upon the fact that I had never climbed the Chouinard-Herbert.

On a hot July 4th Christina Freschl and I left El Portal in the dark, the crickets still owned the air time as the birds hadn’t quite come out of their slumber. We arrived at the Four Mile trail parking just as the cool blue light of morning greeted the Valley. Marching up the Sentinel approach I felt lucky to be able to walk up there, much less climb the route. My ankle had been healing perfectly and this day would be a great test.

The route was amazing and was quite the trip into the past. The climbing went quickly and we beat the sun to the summit. Partnering with Christina was perfect for this endeavor – she is efficient, tough as nails and really good energy to be around. We had a marvelous day out on this old-school classic.

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Psyched as ever on the Chouinard-Herbert! photo Christina Freschl.

As the summer heat rose I migrated to the High Country. For the last 8 or so summers I have been fortunate to do a lot of climbing in Tuolumne. Some might say I have climbed it out, but that just isn’t true. There are some newer, obscure routes that beckon me – one of which was Mikey Schafer’s Night Shift. In mid July Christina and I made an ascent of  this test piece and wow what a route! Anyone intrigued by this line better bring their A-game in the tech-ten department – mentally and physically.

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Night Shift, 5.12; Tuolumne Meadows, CA photo: Christina Freschl

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High up on the Venturi Effect, 5.12d; The Incredible Hulk, CA. photo Ben Ditto

For the past few summers I have been making ventures into the Hulk. Last year after climbing the Venturi Effect I got psyched on the other hard lines, one in particular called Solar Flare. If anyone is familiar with this wall, then you will know the bright orange sun spot on the left side of the formation. The Sunspot Dihedral climbs the right side of this “sun spot” while Solar Flare climbs the left arete of it.  In late July Ian Nielson and I went in for a couple of days to try our hands at Solar Flare. It is a stunning route. I believe actually at one point while digging deep on the 12d crux pitch slab arete I yelled, “Holy shit, this is like Eat your heart out Mikey Schafer.” Needless to say it was hard, techy, physical and at times cryptic. I fucking loved it! Ian was a great partner and while neither of us made a full free ascent we had a great time, did some stellar climbing and got inspired to go back.

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The Incredible Hulk

 

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The 12b pitch on Solar Flare, 5.12d; The Incredible Hulk, CA photo Ian Nielson

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Last year my friend and frequent partner Patrick O’Donnell and I discussed doing the Hading Route on Conness.  By August of this summer it had been in the works for a year. I had made it a goal to be feeling as fit as ever for this endeavor since it consists of a 4 mile hike in and back out, a 1200ft climb and an elevation of 12,600ft. My training, my bike riding, all of my climbing as well as the trip to the Hulk had me feeling pretty fit and the mission was a great success. The route was amazing, the location sublime and I never felt stronger at elevation than then.

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This route, although easier, felt similar in character to the Chouinard-Herbert. Much of that sentiment stems from how historical both routes are as well as the ancient fixed gear that gives a glimpse into a bygone era. The old YC stamped pins in the CH with the some of the original bongs made such an enjoyable trip down a historical path. As I led my way up the notorious 5th pitch of The Harding Route on Conness I felt similar appreciation for the old bolts. They are old Star Drives and the hangers are original Harding chopped piton, hole punched, ring hangers. They are amazing little pieces of art. My appreciation stemmed not from desperately wanting to clip them but from an admiration of the story that played itself out on this Alpine rock. To think of Harding out there, drilling those bolts, groveling through the squeeze chimneys with his hammer dangling made me smile. We are lucky to have such beauty so close!

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While there are no pictures of us climbing Conness there is this: Sunrise view from the tent

In between Alpine endeavors and long routes I worked with Sacred Rok, enjoyed the vibe in Tuolumne, did a lot of school work, and spent a lot of time on the East Side. I sport climbed a lot, returning to crags like the Tioga Wall, Bear Crag and Pine Creek and checked out other spots like Column of the Giants. I found myself to be in good shape, having power and endurance and maybe even annoying my friends a little by doing their projects first go. I made some first female ascents at Bear Crag, Tuolumne, and Pine Creek and the second overall ascent of a new route at Pine Creek called Planet X ((13b), its the extension to Planetarium and its really worthy.)Not to brag too much but it’s been great fun!

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Hey Ladies, 13a; Column of the Giants, CA photo Lisa B

 

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Techy slab, crack edging Pine Creek fun. photo POD

I was fortunate that my ankle break was so textbook and didn’t require surgery. I was lucky it healed so well. As of now there are days when I don’t even remember I broke it, which is interesting because in the beginning I couldn’t imagine how it would ever feel normal again. I owe a lot to my dear husband, Ben Ditto, for all of his patience, help and support. It would have been a long, hard and miserable journey without him. I also owe a lot to all the people who helped me through rehab and training – without this core group of knowledgable and kind people I would still be a gimpy mess.

There are a few little projects to tie up and one more week of work before this Sierra sojourn comes to an end. I will meet Ben in France and we will spend the fall and winter in Europe again. The Verdon Gorge will be the first stop, a place that has been a dream of mine for many years. I am looking forward to spending some time there, pratiquer mon francais et bien manger.

I wish all of you a great end to summer and happy fall climbing season – and may the snow gods please deliver an abundance of moisture to the Sierra!

 

also…in case you all are wondering where Ben is in all of this:

In June he made a free ascent of the Freerider – like a bowse! In early July he departed the US and met up with the Belgians and Cpt Bob for another sailing expedition. As of now they have been to Greenland where they established some new routes and boulder problems and have been in Baffin Island doing the same. Stay tuned for more on their adventures. _DSC28614J5A9739_DSC2846


				

Winter Meditation on Climbing

Bouldering close to home on This is How we do it at the Russian Space Station (V8); Bishop, CA pic by Michael Pang

Bouldering close to home on This is How we do it at the Russian Space Station (V8); Bishop, CA
pic by Michael Pang

Well into our flight to New York, my head hit the tray table as I jarred awake, startled from my dream. I had just fallen for the 30th+ time on the last crux move of Picos Pardos, a route I had been climbing on for the previous three weeks. As my vision came into focus, I could make out the stewardess passing a customs form to the man sitting next to me. Our five-month trip to Spain to explore its limestone in places like Picos de Europa, La Hermida, Rodellar, and Oliana had finally ended, and we were heading back to California.

As I adjusted to my reality, I was a little relieved to be on the plane heading home rather than coming to rest at the end of my rope again. And yet even though I felt relief, I also felt empty, like I had a hole in my heart or like I’d just been dumped.

Picos Pardos; Oliana, Spain (8b/8b+). pic Tara Reynvaan

Picos Pardos; Oliana, Spain (8b/8b+). pic Tara Reynvaan

My husband was asleep in his seat. Two days before we boarded our plane, he had achieved a personal best in his climbing by making a successful ascent of the 55-meter overhanging route called Fish Eye — an aesthetic line of incut

Climbing the mountains of Spain. pic by Ben Ditto

Climbing the mountains of Spain. pic by Ben Ditto

crimps that ascends the very center of the crag on gold and blue limestone at Oliana. And while this was a big deal for him, no one on this plane knew or would even care.

I was excited for him and thankful for the time we had just spent together and the experiences we’d had, but I was downright depressed. Why had I spent so much time and effort trying something only to leave not having completed it, having fallen time and time again in the same spot? What was I doing with my life? I could see the doors of an existential crisis opening before me.

I am getting older. The sun and the wind define the lines on my face more with each passing day. What was a hobby in my teenage years has turned into a whole life, a passion I cannot ignore. Endless days have been spent amongst the rocks in places both near and far — from the alpine terrain of the Northwest Territories, to the granite monoliths of Yosemite, the sandstone towers in Utah, the sketchy crags in Mexico, the impeccable rock found throughout Europe.

Holidays have been missed, birthdays come and gone. I missed home — my grandmother’s hands, my mom’s voice, our traditional Lebanese foods, and the slow Southern accents. I missed my dad and his jokes and his sense of style.

My best friend was in California, a man who has devoted his whole life to climbing. His climbing resume is impressive to say the least. He is respected by many, has many acquaintances, and is involved in some great youth work. But he is single and lives alone, and I wondered if he hadn’t indirectly isolated himself from others by having chosen a life of climbing. Even though I was with my husband, I felt very lonely.

I knew it would be possible for me to climb Picos Pardos successfully — I had done all the moves, I had linked through the hard part but had fallen higher. I just needed another chance or two or five or who knows how many. I also knew I might not make it before we left, and I’d been telling myself it didn’t matter, that it was all just practice anyway.

Yosemite Granite. pic by Ben Ditto

Yosemite Granite. pic by Ben Ditto

But when I fell on my last try on our last day, it was hard to decipher the wave of emotions spreading over me. I wondered if it had all been in vain — if I had been fooling myself the whole time — and as I sat on the plane feeling sad, I wondered what was the point if in the end and in between we feel lost and lonely and empty?

By the time we were landing at JFK, the hole was filling with sad relief. I could move on, try something else, be released from my self-imposed prison. We tell ourselves, “We can do it,” because we have to convince ourselves it could be possible despite all odds — despite gravity, despite reach, despite conditions, despite any other external factor in the world — because we want to see what’s possible and what it takes to make the dream a reality. And many times we succeed. But more often than not, it’s these times that we don’t where we really learn about ourselves.